The Eastern New York State Soccer Association will be recognizing New Hyde Park resident Willie Dempsey’s involvement with the New York Irish Rovers amateur soccer club for the past 30 years by inducting him into the association’s Hall of Fame this year.
“His club is the second winningest club in the league,” said Gus Xikis, president of the Long Island Soccer Football League.
The Long Island Soccer Football League nominated Demsey for the state Hall of Fame after naming him a “Life Member” at its annual awards dinner in June.
Dempsey, 46, started playing soccer at age five in his native County Longford in Ireland where he grew up as the second youngest of two brothers and nine sisters - all of whom played soccer.
He came to the U.S. at age 17 in May 1985 to stay with an aunt for the summer. He never left - and never missed an opportunity on the soccer pitch.
“I landed on a Friday and I played my first game for the Rovers on a Sunday,” Dempsey recalled.
Dempsey, who played defender throughout his career, won 10 New York State Championships, 20 Long Island Championships, 24 Long Island Cup Championships as a player and coach for the Irish Rovers.
At age 46, Dempsey is still playing on the Rovers’ reserve squad.
“I love getting out on a Sunday and putting the boots on,” he said.
Dempsey became reserve manager in 1989 and first team manager in 1993. He won the reserve league cup for three consecutive years.
He has been president of the Irish Rovers since 1997 and is third vice president of the Long Island Soccer Football League and a board member.
“He does a lot of things for us. And he loves the game of soccer,” Xikis said.
Xikis, who is also a member of the Eastern New York State Soccer Association Hall of Fame, has a vivid memory of playing against Dempsey.
“He’s tough. He gives 100 percent. Irish players are very physical,” Xikis said.
Dempsey has lived in New Hyde Park for the past seven years, residing in Woodside prior to that.
He runs his own construction business six days a week, which leaves the seventh day for soccer.
“Soccer’s been my life and it’ll always be my life as long as I’m able to get up and do it,” Dempsey said
His wife, Ciara, is an athlete as well. She is a member of the New Hyde Park Road Runners and will be running in this year’s New York City Marathon.
The couple have three children and Willie Dempsey said his son Liam, nearly five years old, “is definitely going to be a soccer player.”
As for his imminent Hall of Fame honor, Dempsey said, “I was totally stunned and humbled when I was told I was being honored by the state Hall of Fame. It’s amazing.”